Work hard, stay grateful, remain humble: Shelly Gomez of Latino Alliance helps business, community

Latino Alliance

Learn more about the Latino Alliance at the group’s Facebook page.

Learn more about Shelly Gomez’s work in race and ethnicity programs at the HUB Cultural Center at Sonoma State University.

Shelly Gomez welcomes the opportunity to connect the Latinx community, from Latinx students at Sonoma State University to Latinx business owners throughout Rohnert Park and Cotati, as well as families and friends.

As the race and ethnicity program coordinator at the HUB Cultural Center of Sonoma State University, Gomez designs and facilitates intersectional programs that support students of different ethnicities and identities.

Beyond that, she is a co-founder of the Latino Alliance. It is a group of Rohnert Park and Cotati Latinx business owners and community members using unique strategies to let customers know their doors are open.

“Building a team of support is essential at being successful. I see my job as identifying available resources,” said Gomez.

Latino, Latina, Latinx

“Latino is often the preferred noun or adjective for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. Latina is the feminine form. Some prefer the recently coined gender-neutral term Latinx….” —Associated Press Stylebook

Read more about diversity in local business.

Gomez, 43, relies on creative thinking and her ability to connect with community resources to showcase available resources, tools, and contacts.

She and her partner, Latino Alliance co-founder Frankie Lemus, have assisted business owners with developing social media strategies in English and Spanish. At SSU, Gomez has organized programs to help Latinx faculty and students stay in touch through the academic year and beyond.

“The Latinx community benefits from developing solidarity and community events. Encouraging participation and volunteering provides ways for people to get to know and educate one another,” said Gomez.

As Gomez reaches out to business owners figuring out ways to build revenue during a pandemic and to students in navigating their first semester online, she is also learning.

“Listening to the multitude of worldviews is teaching me what’s working and what’s not. I hope to become even more skilled at providing spaces for others to be heard,” said Gomez.

Gomez said transitioning to remote learning and working has been challenging.

“Students are navigating these unprecedented times the best they can. I am amazed at their resilience. I am extremely grateful that our leadership continues to prioritize the well-being of our students and staff,” said Gomez.

Gomez noted the Latino Festival could not take place this year because of the pandemic.

“This was heartbreaking for so many of us. Last year the festival created an opportunity for local businesses and organizations to share space and connect with local residents, council members and community advocates,” said Gomez.

Gomez and Lemus took time in the summer and fall to develop a magazine to showcase local Latinx-owned businesses, the Latino Alliance Magazine - 2020.

“This magazine (is) an opportunity to not only market (local) businesses but also to honor Latinx Heritage Month. We (are taking) this opportunity to also share our deepest gratitude to our community supporters for their continued dedication and service to our organization and to also introduce our newest board members,” said Gomez.

The Latino Alliance Magazine - 2020 can be found in print at Oliver’s Markets locations, local restaurants, and digitally on the Latino Alliance’s Facebook page.

Blending business and culture, while removing obstacles

Developing an organization to solidify a Latinx network has long been a goal for Gomez. She grew up the child of two local business owners, Crucita Gomez and Rene Gomez, founders of Rohnert Park Transmissions.

As businesses came into Rohnert Park and Cotati, she saw that “some interpersonal connections between business owners, the two cities, and the community have been lost. I founded the Latino Alliance with Frankie to rebuild that,”

Currently, Gomez and Lemus are sharing news about ways for Latinx community members and business owners to communicate with Rohnert Park and Cotati city council members.

"We've brought Latino business owners and Latino community members together to talk to one another. (We’ve) encouraged them to work together to strengthen our community,” said Lemus.

After she and Lemus formally started the group as a nonprofit organization in May 2019, they coordinated with members and the city to hold Rohnert Park’s first Latino Festival in September 2019. The event, held at 500 City Center, featured live music, informational booths, a car show, Latinx food, and speeches by Windsor Vice Mayor Esther Lemus and Sonoma County District 3 Supervisor Shirlee Zane.

Latino Alliance

Learn more about the Latino Alliance at the group’s Facebook page.

Learn more about Shelly Gomez’s work in race and ethnicity programs at the HUB Cultural Center at Sonoma State University.

“About 20 organizations participated. So many people came out and enjoyed themselves. Attendees got to know other members of the Latinx community, such as students on the Rancho Cotate High School soccer team and Sonoma State University students. The Latino Alliance later did a fundraiser to help the Rancho Cotate team,” said Gomez.

She and Lemus are now exploring ways to showcase Latinx businesses and groups digitally and safely. They are also considering goals for future Latino Alliance events.

Sharing the importance of education, through personal experience

When SSU transitioned to online learning, Gomez started utilizing Zoom and other online learning tools to ensure college students find support in their first year of distance education.

The programs she co-facilitates includes “Womxn of Color Collective,” a dialogue series facilitated by womxn of color, and “Real Talk for Latinx Communities,” a series dedicated to the Latinx community. Gomez supports other programs, including “Black &...,” a dialogue series for people who identify as Black and allies, and Spoke, a poetry reading and workshop.

Gomez is using word of mouth, professor and staff contacts, and social media to create safe and empowering digital spaces. She is also making progress herself. Gomez is currently earning a Master of Arts in education with an emphasis in Chicanx and Latinx studies at SSU.

“This means a lot to me, and I share that. It’s because I didn’t have the opportunity to attend college when I was younger. For many years, I worked as a bookkeeper for Taqueria Sol Azteca once Frankie took over the business (after) his parents retired.

I also worked as a correctional counselor in the Juvenile Justice Center of Sonoma County,” said Gomez.

Darlene Sandoval, owner of Numer1cal, a Santa Rosa-based bookkeeping and tax firm, is a member of the Latino Alliance, and a friend of Gomez. Sandoval said Gomez is leading by example.

“Through her work at SSU and on behalf of the Latino Alliance, she shares her experiences and those of others. This provides a way for the Latinx community to further communicate and amplify Latinx voices. This is very much needed in Sonoma County,” said Sandoval.

Sandoval described Gomez as “amazing, blunt, and fearless.”

“Little by little, the Latino Alliance is changing Rohnert Park and Cotati. After she and Frankie spoke to local business owners, people started coming to government meetings. More Spanish translations began being posted on the city website. More Latinx residents began to speak about their concerns regarding redistricting and other issues,” said Sandoval.

Gomez is also changing how tomorrow’s leaders think about themselves.

Dr. Elisa Velásquez-Andrade is the chair of the psychology department at SSU and the faculty co-chair of Alianza for Equity, a SSU campus organization that offers a united voice for Latinx faculty, staff, students, and allies. Velásquez-Andrade said Gomez has demonstrated remarkable leadership in her role as race and ethnicity program coordinator at SSU’s HUB Cultural Center.

“She has established strategic collaborations with faculty, staff, and students to offer relevant programming to honor racially diverse students and educate the SSU community as a whole,” said Velásquez-Andrade.

Velásquez-Andrade added Gomez is devoted, pleasant, active, and very well-connected.

“Shelly has done so much for Latinx students. When Alianza holds meetings to organize events such the annual luncheon, or works to plan events, like the Latinx Heritage Month, Shelly brings all projects to fruition. Her attitude is, ’We have a goal, and together, we are going to make it happen,’” said Velásquez-Andrade.

Gomez said her advice for students, business owners, and community members is to work hard, stay grateful, and remain humble for your blessings.

“These are three things my parents taught me. They apply to all types of journeys, (including) founding a business, raising a family, and my academic journey to higher education,” said Gomez.

Gomez also recommends taking time from a hectic schedule to listen to others.

“Those personal relationships where you sit down for a moment and get to know someone are rewarding. It helps you realize there is so much work to be done. We need to help students recover from imposter syndrome, foster youth hear we have compassion for them, and business owners eradicate oppression. Listening to others’ dreams, desires, and wants teach you what we could accomplish together.”

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